Norelle Done of the Seattle Wrote blog has posted the first post in a series all about publishing. Her wonderful blog is oriented toward the Pacific Northwest and Seattle, but her posts — from author interviews to book reviews to how-to articles — are great for readers and writers all over.
Part 1 of our series begins today — stop by and learn about how Ashland Creek Press got started and why we do what we do, along with tips for authors on getting published and submitting manuscripts to small presses.
And stay tuned for the next Q&A, coming next week!
You’ve written your book, gotten it published, and now you’re ready to show up at the bookstore, library, museum, cafe, or whichever venue will be your first one along the book tour.
Reading to an audience is something you learn how to do well over time, through experience and mistakes, as the poet Kelli Russell Agodon says so well in this blog post. One of the most surprising things for me, when I first began doing readings for Forgetting English, was that I found myself wishing I’d read each and every story aloud one more time before seeing it into print — because once I began reading these stories aloud, I realized that I’d have changed certain words here and there so that they’d flow as well off the tongue as they seemed to on the page. So this leads to my first of many tips for having a successful public reading:
– Think ahead — way ahead. When you’re in the process of publication, think ahead to how your work will sound when you read it aloud, and make the changes you need to make. That way, when you’re ready to plan what to read, you’ll know that it will sound good, and all you’ll need to do is practice. Which brings me to my next tip…
– Practice. You may think you know your work inside and out, but reading is so different from writing. And you’ll also need to choose what to read, often from several hundred pages (see below for how to choose). Practice reading your selection aloud as many times as you need to. Read aloud in front of a few trusted people to get feedback on your pacing, emphasis, and delivery. Some writers use audio or video to gauge how they’re doing — also a great way to practice. And if you live in a city that offers open-mic events, go to them and read — and do this as often as you can. The very best way to get comfortable in front of an audience is to practice in front of an audience. Finally, click here for a few more tips from such professionals as Jack Straw Productions‘ Moe Provencher and poet and performer Elizabeth Austen.
– When choosing what to read, less is more. When Forgetting English first came out and I was doing a lot of readings, I experimented: Once, I read an entire story (about 40 minutes of reading); other times, I’d read for ten to twenty minutes from one story; and still other times, I’d read from three different stories for five minutes each. Sometimes the best way to learn what works is to give it a try — and, having done all that, I can definitely recommend reading less and chatting with readers more. While my 40-minute reading was, fortunately, well received (if you do read for that long, be sure you do it in front of a friendly crowd who’ll happily sit through it and not throw things at you, and give them a head’s-up about the duration of the reading so they won’t get restless), I’ve done this sort of long reading only once, and I’m not inspired to read for that long again. For one, it’s easier to read shorter passages; two, it doesn’t risk tiring an audience; and three, it offers more time to chat about the book and to take questions. Remember that readers are there to get a taste of the book, but they’re also there to get what they can’t get from the book itself: a glimpse of who you are as a writer.
– Support the venue. If you’re reading in an indie bookstore, support it with a purchase, whether it’s a book or a few greeting cards or a bar of Theo Chocolate. If you’re in a library, ask if you can donate a copy of your book for their collection. Always find a way to give back. And don’t forget to send thank-you notes.
– Offer something extra to readers. Bring bookmarks or postcards, buttons or pens — any little something to offer guests at your event. If the venue allows, refreshments such as wine or cookies can offer a nice touch (I have unscientific proof that serving wine does improve book sales). It’s nice to offer little extras as thanks for supporting your book — and even if participants don’t purchase the book but leave with a bookmark, they’ll be reminded of it and might be inspired to buy it later.
– Bring everything you might need. From water to reading glasses to tissues to cough drops — whatever you might need, bring it. Keep a list of things, just in case. It’s amazing what you forget … I’ve read without water (challenging) and without reading glasses (doubly challenging), and I once forgot to bring a copy of my own book, so I had to borrow one from the bookstore (embarrassing). There is no such thing as being too well prepared.
– Bring extra books. If you’re reading at a venue other than a bookstore, you’ll likely bring your own books; always bring more than you think you’ll need. I bring 5-10 extra copies of Forgetting English along even to a bookstore reading — while this may seem redundant, it’s far better to lug them along than to lose these extra sales and readers if the bookstore runs out. Bookstores often under-order, and having been at bookstores that have sold out and needed my copies, I’m always glad to have them available. Granted, my book is slender and in paperback, so this is easy … but even if your book is a heavy hardcover, it’s a good idea to have at least a couple of extras. If you do find yourself in a situation in which you leave readers without books, get their emails and follow up yourself with a signed copy, which they’ll appreciate.
– Speaking of getting emails…develop a mailing list. Pass around a sign-up sheet for email updates for anyone who wants to know where you’ll be next or to hear about your next project.
– Be ready for anything. I keep my events low-key on purpose — no PowerPoint, nothing even remotely high-tech — so I never worry about the inevitable broken projectors or other possible malfunctions. But if you do need to bring or use equipment other than yourself and your book, always have fallback solutions, just in case.
– Talk to readers. Don’t simply read but engage. Open your reading by thanking everyone for being there; say something nice about the city you’re visiting. Tell them what you’re about to read, why you chose it. Then, after your reading, invite questions. If no one asks anything at first (don’t worry — they all have questions; they’re just shy), simply jump right in yourself by saying, “One question I get a lot is…” and answer it. This will open up the dialogue.
– Learn from — and celebrate — your experience. On her blog, The Alchemist’s Kitchen, poet Susan Rich writes about the aftermath of the author reading: how to know whether you’ve succeeded, taking a look at what’s important to remember, and what’s important to let go. If you’re a multi-genre writer, you’ll also enjoy her post on reading poetry v. reading prose.
I can still remember the days (long ago) when an author’s photo on a book cover was optional. Sometimes there would be one, often in black-and-white; sometimes not. Now, however, in these days of “mediagenic” authors and digital imagery, the author photo is no longer an option. Which is a little stressful for those of us who have a disproportionate number of bad hair days or who may not love the camera.
But, as Jane Friedman writes in this blog post, every author needs a professional head shot. For one, if you hope to promote yourself and your book, you’ll be asked for one — and, as Friedman points out, a photo can do wonders in terms of giving you credibility or establishing trust … or have the opposite effect.
Jane’s post offers excellent tips for what you’ll want in a photo, and I’ll add a couple more:
– Stay within your budget, or you’re sure to be even more stressed about it. There’s nothing worse than spending money you don’t have … but especially on a photo that will remind you of it at every turn. Many wonderful photographers out there know that we writers don’t make a lot of money; find one that you can afford, then relax and enjoy the process.
– Invest in a good camera, and find someone who knows how to use it. It’ll pay off in the end — for one, you can take photos on your book tour and at other events, which are always nice to have. Two, you can take a few good shots to offer in addition to your Official Author Photo. And, finally, you may even be able to use it for your Official Author Photo, especially if you don’t like or can’t afford the more formal studio shots. The photo I’m currently using was taken by my husband (who put himself through college in part by working as a photographer), and while it’s not a professional studio shot, I like the more casual feel of it.
– Be yourself. Have you ever been to a reading where you couldn’t identify the author because he/she looked so unlike the photo on the book cover? Beware of this. You’ll want to look your best, but don’t go too crazy with hair and makeup; most of all, you’ll want to look like yourself. And, while it’s certainly tempting, avoid using a photo that captures your youthful self but doesn’t at all resemble your current self. In this blog post, author Mary Akers concludes that author photos should be updated every ten years — and this seems just about right; it allows us to put off the trauma of author photos for a good amount of time yet still keep our image somewhat up-to-date.
– Interview photographers. This is a great idea no matter what, but especially if you’re going to spend a lot of money. Once you’ve narrowed down your list based on the portfolios you like the best, schedule a meeting or a chat as well. Make sure the photographer knows exactly what you want and can achieve this for you. And make sure it’s someone you feel comfortable with, or you won’t be looking very relaxed in your photos.
– Check out this Q&A with photographer Rosanne Olson, below.
I first encountered Rosanne’s work in her beautiful book, This Is Who I Am, a collection of images and essays on women, body image, and compassion that Kate Winslet called “an absolutely wonderful book” and declared, “Every woman needs to see it!” As well as an author, Rosanne is an award-winning photographer and photojournalist who also has more than thirty years’ experience as a teacher and lecturer. She is particularly passionate about telling stories through portraits — of women, families, business professionals…and, yes, authors.
Rosanne generously agreed to chat with me about author photos, offering more important tips for authors to keep in mind. All the photographs below, including author photos of Wendy Call, Susan Rich, and Kelli Russell Agodon, are courtesy of Rosanne. Visit Rosanne’s website for more on her work.
What do you think makes a good author photo?
The photograph needs to convey how the author wants to portray himself/herself. Usually that means approachable, intelligent, engaging. Some people are more dramatic in how they want to be seen. Some are more friendly or sophisticated.
What advice can you offer to writers who are nervous about having their photos taken?
People come to me with varying degrees of “nervousness” about how they look and how they “photograph” (“No one has ever taken a good photo of me” is a common complaint). This is very natural. My approach to get people to relax is to spend time talking to my clients before I pick up my camera. I also will likely read some of their work prior to the session. I make recommendations about clothing and makeup, and then, as the session proceeds, share some of the digital images with the client. I like to make them feel that they are in competent and compassionate hands with something that is very precious to them. After the session, I get them to sit with me to edit the photos to make sure they get the look they want.
What are the biggest mistakes authors make when it comes to their photos?
Sometimes people come here with too much makeup on. Or they bring their clothing stuffed into a bag so everything is wrinkled. Believe me, not just authors do this but lots of people. It is actually pretty amusing except for the fact that clothing then needs to be pressed or steamed here. Aside from that, people are usually willing to trust me to do the best possible job that I can with them. It is an exquisite collaboration.
What should an author expect to pay for a professional author photo?
Photographers’ fees vary across the country, but most charge somewhere between $150 and $2,500. If you pay the least amount possible for a photo you may get something okay. Or even just fine. But will it work for years to come? I try to work with people and their budgets. It is definitely an important investment.
Do you recommend color or black-and-white for author photos — and why?
Things are shot digitally these days so all images come out in color and it takes an extra step to convert them to black-and-white or sepia. That said, I think color conveys more because it is, well, color.
Do you have any recommendations for authors who are looking for a photographer? What questions should they ask?
An author photo is an important piece of one’s “brand.” If you have a photo you like, you can use it for years. When people see it they will think of you and of your work. I think of some of the famous, famous photos of people like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver and how they convey so much at a glance. Pick your photographer by looking at the photographer’s web site and perhaps talking on the phone. Also, ask for references from other artists and authors who have been photographed by that person.
We so enjoyed creating our Remington Rand notecards that we’ve created a new card featuring our 1929 Smith & Corona. (Now our worry is that the other typewriters will be jealous, though frankly, not all of them are ready for their close-ups just yet…)
Here’s an image of the new cards, now available:
And, if you’ve got a soft spot for antique typewriters, check out our public service announcement and join the campaign to save the typewriters.
A: A good query letter (in our case, that’s the cover letter that accompanies submissions) should be professional and to the point (“to the point” meaning it should be no more than one page long); it should tell us about your book and a little bit about yourself. It should also tell us why you chose to submit to Ashland Creek Press (i.e., it should reveal that you’ve done enough research to know what we publish, which takes about two minutes on our web site) and show passion for your work.
Here are a few more general details, for writers looking for either an editor or an agent…
– Have a hook. You’ll need to be able to describe your book in one or two sentences, which can be as challenging as writing the book itself. Yet this is essential for selling your book to an agent or editor — and for your publisher to sell your book to the rest of the world. For example, Blair Richmond’s book Out of Breath was described as “a vampire novel with an environmental twist.”
– Include a short bio. The key word here is short — two to three sentences at most. Include your best publishing credits (not all of them) and any awards you may have received. If you don’t yet have a publishing history, include something about your unique experience and/or qualifications for writing the book, i.e., “I am a park ranger at Yellowstone, where my novel is set.”
– Note why you’re choosing a particular agent or editor. This helps a lot, as agents, editors, and publishers usually specialize; it’s not a one-size-fits-all industry. Even if you read that an agent accepts “general fiction,” take a look at what he or she represents (is it mostly mystery or mostly romance?) to get an idea of whether your book will be appropriate; it’ll save everyone’s time in the end.
– Be polite and professional. This should go without saying, but we’re always surprised by how many letters we get that aren’t. Check your spelling and punctuation, of course, and know that your query letter gives agents and editors that all-important first impression — if your tone is cranky, unprofessional, or entitled, it could affect how your proposal gets viewed.
And, finally, here are some DOs and DON’Ts, which come from a long mental list I’ve kept of queries I’ve received over many years as an editor.
Use an agent’s or editor’s name rather than “Dear Agent/Editor.” It’s more personal and shows that you’ve spent at least a little time researching before querying. (We are always charmed when writers include our General Manager, Theo, in their query letters.)
Let a publisher know if your book has been self-published. Many publishers (including us) will gladly take a look, but they need to be aware of potential rights issues for authors using vanity presses.
If you mention a famous writer you claim to have studied with extensively, be sure to spell this author’s name correctly.
Make sure there are no pages missing in your manuscript, particularly those very important pages at the beginning or end.
Include word count, but recognize that anything over 100,000 words is often viewed as too long; while there are exceptions to every rule, most editors/agents prefer a word count between 70,000 and 90,000 for novels.
Do not refer to an editor as “yo.” (Yes, this actually happened to us.)
Don’t send poetry if the publisher does not publish poetry; don’t send short stories if an agent doesn’t accept short stories, etc.
Don’t bad-mouth your previous editor/publisher/agent. We might think you’re not very friendly.
Don’t threaten to self-publish your novel if we don’t take it on. (We don’t need to know this, and it doesn’t really help your case.)
While we appreciate knowing whether yours is a simultaneous submission, it is not necessary to list every single editor/agent/publisher to which you have simultaneously submitted your book.
Don’t refer to your book a “fictional novel.”
While comparing your book to a similar title or two is helpful, you don’t need to list a dozen famous authors whose books all resemble the one you’re submitting.
And in case any of the above sounds a little fussy — well, anyone who gets a lot of queries gets a little jaded after a while. But when we say “we look forward to reading your work,” we really mean it. No agent or editor or publisher can get by without authors — we all know this and embrace it. So…we look forward to reading your work. Truly.